Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Neil Young
War Song/The Needle & The Damage Done

Released 1972 on Reprise
Reviewed by Dog 3000, 11/08/2003ce

I am not generally a fan of "political music", but The Man From Canada has a real knack for hitting the nail on the head and at just the right moment too. The CSNY single "Ohio" is the most well known example, hitting the radio weeks after the Kent State shootings in 1970. Lesser known but equally remarkable examples include his 1980 album "Hawks & Doves" which captured the early years of the Reagan era perfectly, remarkable because he must have recorded it BEFORE the guy actually took office!!! And to show he's not some Johnny One Note Leftist, there was also "Let's Roll" from 2001, another rush single commemorating the passengers who fought back on the hijacked airplane that crashed in Pennsylvania on 9-11.

Then there is the A-side of this gem (whose artist credit actually reads "Neil Young & Graham Nash" though Neil is the sole composer), which was Neil's contribution to Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign.

Check out these lyrics:

"In the morning when you wake up
you've got planes flying in the sky
Flying bombs made to break up
all the lies in your eyes

There's a man
who says he can
put an end to war?!?!?!! "

Sound familiar? Sheesh!

The bridge name checks George Wallace so it's not 100% on the mark for these times (someone should remake it with a Ralph Nader reference instead!) -- but the bitter irony in Neil's voice as he sings that chorus (Nixon had a secret plan to end the war!) strikes me as among the greatest examples of a rock'n'roll single/singer lashing out at the powers that be in a most noble refusenik manner (cuz Nixon won by a huge landslide, and it sounds here like Neil saw it coming . . . he put the record out anyway.) Certainly very little I have seen or heard recently from the "rock n roll community" (as mediated by MTV-Clearchannel-blahblahblah) comes anywhere close to the immediate emotional impact of this oldie, and the US elections of 2004 are shaping up a helluva lot closer than 1972!

Steve Earle is probably the most notable exception to this sad state of affairs. [RANT ON] I mean, from what I heard most of the crowds showing up at this Bruce Springsteen-Dave Mathews-Whole Buncha Boring Liberal Corporate Rockers Gettin Out Da Vote Tour this fall are baby boomer REPUBLICANS! I mean, who else listens to that MOR 70's retro crap! And every "punk" band I've seen in a club this year has done their obligatory "go out and register to vote / LICK BUSH!" shout out, but methinks such cheerleading is just so much preaching to the choir.[/RANT OFF]

The point is, this here Neil Young sermon is about preparing for the worst. It ain't over yet, not by a long shot. On some level delivering blunt reality to an audience naively hoping for a change that isn't coming takes more guts if ya ask me. (Just as there's something sort of positive about even the most "negative" gangsta rap of your NWA/Geto Boys types.)

Of course if the MUSIC on this record didn't kick ass I wouldn't be bothering to review it. "War Song" is sort of a sequel to "Ohio", only stripped down and tougher with a relentless fuzz guitar syncopating on the tonic note. Neil ain't bullshittin' so his aesthetic choice is to stick to a real basic song structure: the chorus and verse use the same chords, and the riff-between-the-singing is basically just one note over & over in the syncopated rhythm of soldiers on the march. There are no "solo breaks" as such, just a few harmonica and pedal steel licks in the corners to keep it interesting.


The single didn't make the chart, and I was in diapers in those days so I have no idea if this record got any airplay at all, but ever since I discovered it it's been one of my top 10 favorite of Neil's tunes. Why it isn't on the "Decade" comp (or appended to some CD reissue) is absolutely mindboggling. You can find it on some bootleg "unreleased Neil" CD's however.

As for the b-side: it's that same ol' tune from "Harvest" which I think he used as a b-side on a few different singles around that time.

(This review was originally written Aug 2003, then revised one week prior to the US elections of 2004. . . .

. . . . trust me, no matter who wins it'll all end in tears . . . )

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